Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Russia, NATO and Europe

From RFE/RL Newsline (Feb. 20):

Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, who commands the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, told a February 19 Moscow news conference that Russia might target missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic if those countries agree to host U.S. missile-defense sites, Russian media reported (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” February 2, 9, and 12, 2007). Solovtsov said that “if a political decision [is made by the Kremlin] to withdraw from [the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty] between the United States and Russia, the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of carrying out the task [of targeting sites in the Czech Republic and Poland].” He added that, under the 1987 pact, “intermediate-range missiles were dismantled as a class, but the [knowledge of how to make them] is still there…. So, if such a decision is made, it won’t be difficult to resume their production.” Solovtsov noted that the United States and its allies are discussing the missile-defense project but have not yet taken any concrete steps. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said on February 19 that there will not be any new “Cold War” in Europe, the daily “Vedomosti” reported on February 20. He added that Russia is nonetheless prepared to defend “its national interests” by making an unspecified “symmetrical response” to the stationing of a missile-defense system near its borders. On February 15, General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, said that Russia has “convincing evidence” that would enable it to abrogate the INF agreement under the terms of that pact, RIA Novosti reported. The state-run news agency described his remarks as “a strong warning” to Washington. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on February 16 that Baluyevsky was “simply stating the facts” and that Russia has made no decision on scrapping the treaty. The “International Herald Tribune” on February 20 quoted Moscow-based analyst Ivan Safranchuk as saying that Russia is threatening to abrogate the agreement in the hope that unspecified “Europeans” will “put pressure on the United States” not to go ahead with its missile-defense plans. “The Economist” of February 17 argued that Russia seeks recognition of its own “sphere of influence” in Europe. PM

In a statement in Brussels on February 19, NATO spokesman James Appathurai described the comments by Colonel General Solovtsov as unacceptable, news agencies reported. Appathurai stressed that “the days of talk of targeting NATO territory or vice versa are long past us. This kind of extreme language is out of date and uncalled for.” On February 15, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the missile-defense system “is no way directed at Russian strategic forces. This is in no way directed against Russia. As a matter of fact, we have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.” On February 19, State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said that “we have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense because we believe we face a common threat emanating from the Middle East as well as other areas.” President Vladimir Putin and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov have said repeatedly that they do not believe that the defense system is directed against Iran (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” February 2, 9, and 12, 2007). PM

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in Warsaw on February 19 that they are likely to accept U.S. missile-defense sites on their respective territories, international media reported. Topolanek added that “both of our countries are now preparing a response to the U.S. proposal. We have agreed that both countries are likely to give a positive response, and then we will begin negotiations.” Alluding to recent criticism of the missile-defense system by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Topolanek said that “saying that the United States did not consult with Russia is naive” (see below). Kaczynski noted that “the state of Polish-Russian relations is well-known, so seeking Russia’s acceptance [of a U.S. missile-defense system] will be difficult. But we will try to convince the Russians of the obvious fact that this deployment is by no means aimed against them.” He stressed that the system is not directed against “normal countries” but against those that do not abide by international norms. In a joint article published in the Polish daily “Rzeczpospolita” on February 19, Topolanek and Kaczynski said the system will serve as “passive protection from attacks” for all members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The project has aroused controversy in both countries, but many commentators there have noted that the harsh language coming from Moscow in recent weeks is likely to convince Czechs and Poles that they do indeed need a U.S. missile-defense system. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra said on February 19 that Czechs have ample experience with Russian bullying and know that they will pay dearly if they give into it, the daily “Mlada fronta Dnes” reported on February 20. Jiri Sedivy, who is a former head of the Czech General Staff, said on February 19 that Colonel General Solovtsov’s remarks were “unnecessarily tough” because the U.S.-Czech alliance is no threat to Russia, CTK reported. Sedivy suggested that Solovtsov was “just flexing his muscles.” PM

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said in a recent interview that “because the sites for stationing [the missile-defense system] are quite near Russia, one should have talked with Russia about it beforehand,” Deutsche Welle reported on February 19. Later on February 19 in Baku, he qualified his criticism of the United States, Poland, and the Czech Republic by noting that the U.S. and Russian defense ministers have already begun discussions. Eckart von Klaeden, who is foreign-policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), was quoted in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of February 20 as saying that “the thrust of any [German] criticism [over the missile-defense controversy] must not be directed against America.” He suggested that Germany should rather concentrate on warning President Putin that he is sending the wrong message to Iran by criticizing the U.S. missile-defense plans, since those plans are not directed against Russia but against Iran. Von Klaeden added that Russia is wrong to threaten to scrap its 1987 agreement with the United States. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who is a CSU member of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, also stressed that the United States seeks to defend its own territory against a “plausible” threat from Iran. But Rolf Muetzenich, who is a disarmament spokesman for the SPD, praised Steinmeier’s comments. Muetzenich added that he has “basic doubts” about the missile-defense project, and he stressed that a “new arms race” should be avoided. He said that Russia’s threat to scrap the 1987 pact “shows how serious the situation is.” The CDU/CSU and SPD officials alike agreed on the need to discuss the missile-defense project within NATO and the NATO-Russia Council (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” December 1, 2006, and January 18 and 23, 2007). PM
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